Design and Build a Biosuit

Boeing and Teaching Channel (actual authors are two Boeing engineers and a teacher)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Unit
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



The overarching unit has students learn about, design, and build biosuits - suits designed to protect people in potentially dangerous conditions while allowing for complex tasks to still be completed. This review focuses on lessons 3 and 4 of that two-week unit (comprised of 10, 50-minute lessons). These two lessons focus on examining design constraints for particular tasks given to teams of students, then conducting materials research based on those design constraints and planning for budgetary constraints.

The materials required to implement the lessons are generally things teachers would have on hand at home or in the classroom, or could ask students to bring to school (like a snorkel or kitchen gloves).

Several other science/engineering units are available in this series:

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 5
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The criteria in this unit is to successfully complete the task using the indicated biosuit parts (in the “biosuit parts needed” section), though these goals are not labeled explicitly as criteria in the lesson. The key in these lessons is to connect the materials selection and design to particular constraints, including those defined by scientific principles such as material properties (like chemical reactivity and thermal protection). In the “materials research” section of lesson 4, teachers should ask students to clearly state their reasoning for the selection of materials, based on research (as noted in this lesson) and based on physical testing of the materials (as suggested in this review). This research/testing could be added to students’ biosuit handbook at page 9 or 12.

MS-PS1-2 Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

Clarification Statement: Examples of reactions could include burning sugar or steel wool, fat reacting with sodium hydroxide, and mixing zinc with hydrogen chloride.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to analysis of the following properties: density, melting point, boiling point, solubility, flammability, and odor.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
As with the physical science DCI, the teacher will need to add some material properties analysis to this lesson to best connect with this performance expectation. As part of their determination of what materials to use, students should investigate possible changes in properties of their selected materials through research and/or simplified tests to determine whether a chemical reaction occurs or might occur in the environment, and whether that would affect the performance of the biosuit. This will require some additional steps, testing materials to see if they’ll react or not in the given environment (or in the case of space, doing some research). If they react, they’re not going to be as good at protecting body systems and underlying homeostasis. Students should be building up evidence to support a claim for why the materials they selected for the design of the biosuit is appropriate for the environment in their assigned task. In particular, how the selected materials are not at risk of undergoing chemical reactions in these environments. Students might feel they already “know” the answers here in relation to chemical changes, but can they support those claims with scientific evidence? For examples, in the five listed tasks students could reason with these possible issues: Task 1 - water could rust some metal parts Task 2 - is there matter in space that could react with the materials? Task 3 - water could rust some metal parts Task 4 - salty, mineral laden water could rust, corrode, or degrade some materials Task 5 - vegetable oil is unlikely to chemically react with any of the suggested materials, but students could look into reactivity of crude oil, which would react with some of these materials

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
As noted on page 27 of the lesson materials, "Students should provide several reasons and connect their thinking to their draft sketch and eventual biosuit descriptions and presentations—the more, the better. Students should indicate what each selected material helps them to achieve and explain whether trade-offs - cost and availability - were or were not a factor in making their selection." To further elucidate this statement in the lesson, students should also be applying scientific ideas and principles to determine the materials used in their biosuit tool and process. Evidence for design decisions should be explicitly recorded. Later they will also construct these biosuits and test them by using them for a process (which they also have to design).

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
If the goal of the lesson is to design a biosuit to protect the homeostasis of the relevant body systems of the person doing the task, students would need to ensure that the biosuit does not chemically react with the environment, or not physically change, in a way that would reduce its effectiveness. Students would need to do some initial tests and/or research during the material selection phase to ensure that their materials will be adequate for the task, and not undergo significant chemical or physical changes.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
With their designs, students are essentially modeling real-life situations where people would need biosuits. A part of a later lesson has them compare what they do in this activity to the real-world conditions this activity represents. But even early in the unit, they should be introduced to the idea of their design and simulated environment as a system model of the process and environment associated with their assigned performance task, considering throughout how it’s like and unlike the actual system. For example, they’re using vegetable oil instead of crude oil and could be asked why that’s the case for the model environment and how it limits the accuracy of the test (as it doesn’t fully represent the actual environment). Finding some research evidence and/or talking to parents about their model limitations could be a homework task.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: It’s explicitly aligned to the three-dimensions of the NGSS, connecting to engineering practices, DCIs, and crosscutting concepts. However, the engineering design aspect of the lesson should be more strongly linked to building student understanding of the core idea of properties of matter. The tips sections above suggest modifications for teachers to implement the lesson to include specific learning around properties of the materials as well as biological homeostasis of particular body systems being maintained by these materials in extreme conditions. The engineering learning of this unit is authentic and compelling, though the science of chemical change and homeostasis will need to be enhanced to justify spending two weeks on it. Ideas are provided for more emphasis on science concepts of chemical and physical properties to better utilize three-dimensional instruction in lessons 3 and 4.

  • Instructional Supports: The teacher guide book includes great detail for how to conduct the lessons, including tips for potentially tricky components. Instructional supports for use with students include reflection pages and budget sheets. There is also a classroom video showing the final presentation and testing of the biosuit. The handbook containing the student materials is at this url: To help with differentiation in this lesson, the teacher could assign the performance tasks based on students’ prior knowledge of properties of matter. Here is one opinion on the level of rigor of these tasks in relation to material properties, from least to greatest: Task 1, Task 3, Task 4, Task 5, Task 2.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The handbook includes numerous formative assessment ideas, which is unusual in a series of lessons. It also includes summative assessment ideas and a rubric. Unfortunately, the rubric is not explicitly aligned to the three dimensions of the NGSS (thus the "limited" rating). These assessments are provided as part of the student handbook of materials, as a modifiable word doc:

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: N/A